Does Automobile Insurance Follow the Car or the Driver?
Does Automobile Insurance Follow the Car or the Driver?
There are a few questions in life that are more confusing than their answers. The blanket query into
whether or not insurance follows the car or the driver in a particular jurisdiction is such a question -
one we see regularly. It isn't a dumb question. It is more like a MENSA brain teaser than a
legitimate insurance question, and it is usually the wrong question to ask.
The answer to whether insurance follows the car or
driver depends on many variables, most notably the kind of insurance coverage being referred to.
There are coverages that follow the car and coverages that follow the driver. In general, auto
insurance follows the car instead of the driver, but the specifics of a claim can differ since insurance
laws and coverage vary depending on the policy, coverage and state being dealt with.
Liability insurance coverage on a personal auto policy follows the driver no matter whose vehicle is
being operated, provided it is an eligible vehicle. All states, except for one (New Hampshire), require
at least liability coverage. Liability coverage protects the insured (i.e., follows the driver) when the
insured operates a vehicle owned by someone else. In such a situation, they will still usually be
covered under their own auto insurance policy. However, the best rule of thumb in looking for
coverage under a policy is to begin with the exclusions.
While an "insured vehicle" may include a friend's or neighbor's vehicle or a rental car, if the vehicle
was available for regular use, it might be excluded. A "replacement" vehicle will probably be
covered, but in some cases only under circumstances where the insured's vehicle cannot be
operated for some specific reason, such as a repair. Coverage might not follow anyone if the insured
is driving a vehicle other than a "private passenger vehicle not owned and listed on the insured's
policy." There really is no such thing as a standard auto policy anymore and coverage for non-owned
autos will be different under some policies and non-existent under others.
Comprehensive and Collision
Comprehensive and collision auto insurance coverage, on the other hand, are tied to the insured
vehicle (they follow the car). These coverages pay for damage that befalls the insured vehicle as a
result of an accident or vandalism. One could say that if you loan your vehicle, you loan your
insurance. With comprehensive insurance which covers almost everything, it is the car rather than
the driver that is covered. This, however, requires many stipulations to be put in place, such as who
is allowed to drive the car. If someone other than the insured is driving a vehicle covered by
comprehensive coverage and is not listed as a covered driver - even if the other person has
permission - the other person might not be covered in an accident. Family members (such as
children or a spouse) are generally already included in the policy definition of "insured." However,
rarely will insurance cover a driver operating a vehicle without the owner's permission.
Other Drivers Driving the Insured's Vehicle
When an insured allows other drivers to drive his vehicle, then, and only then, does the question of
whether insurance follows the car or the vehicle become even awkwardly relevant. The right
question to be asking is not whether insurance follows the car or the driver, but whether or not
other drivers will be covered by the insured's auto insurance.
Unfortunately, there is no bright line answer to the question, and it depends greatly on the language
of the policies involved, the jurisdiction you are concerned with, and the specific facts involved.
Permissive use is generally covered under the liability terms of an auto policy. As always, however,
there are exceptions.
There are certainly insurance carriers and policies that will not cover any driver not specifically
named in the policy. Other relevant facts include where the "other driver" resides and if they are
related to the insured. In general, if someone is living in the insured's household and regularly
drives the insured's vehicle, many insurance carriers expect you to have that person named on the
policy. They will need to undergo the same underwriting and qualification process as any other
In some cases, if a family member is visiting and has permission from the insured to drive the family
vehicle, there will be coverage if there is an accident, but the coverage may be limited. All policies
should be reviewed to determine if there are any excluded drivers and any limitations on coverage
for anyone driving the car that is not specifically named on the policy.
When the policy of the vehicle owner and the policy of the permissive user have different limits, the
matter becomes even more complicated. If the damages caused by the permissive user's negligence
exceed the owner's liability limits, the policy of the permissive user might be tapped as secondary
coverage, but usually only where the permissive user's liability limits are higher than the owner's
The Insured Driving Someone Else's Vehicle
In general, insurance coverage for an insured driving someone else's vehicle is the coverage he
carries for his own vehicle. The driver's personal coverage will apply in most cases when driving a
vehicle he does not own. This includes any uninsured motorist coverage he carries and the medical
portions of his policy. The driver's property damage coverage might carry over while driving
another's car as well, depending on the policy language, the respective limits of the two policies
involved, and the facts. If a person drives his own vehicle without insurance, he should not expect
that he is covered when driving someone else's vehicle.
Certain factors must be considered in determining if an insured is covered when driving someone
else's vehicle, including the reasons for driving the vehicle, if the insured had permission or not, or if
it was a rental or dealership loaner. In each case, the individual circumstances and state law
involved will factor into the outcome, but another policy might be considered primary over the
When an insured borrows a vehicle from a friend, the insured's liability coverage usually steps in
only when the insured's policy limits are exceeded. Collision and comprehensive coverage do not
apply to a borrowed vehicle. Medical Payments (Med Pay) and Personal Injury Protection (PIP)
coverage, as we will see below, also follow the insured into a borrowed vehicle.
Med Pay and Bodily Injury Insurance
Med Pay and bodily injury insurance are two other types of coverage that usually follow the person,
not the car. Med Pay coverage pays for any injuries that an insured or his passengers may incur in
an accident, regardless of who is at fault. Such coverage usually follows the driver. It is based on
people, not the vehicle. In fact, such coverage sometimes covers the insured when he is walking or
biking. This coverage also usually follows the driver when he rents a car, because the rental vehicle
is a substitute for the insured's own vehicle. However, Med Pay coverage sometimes follows the car.
If the passengers in a vehicle don't have coverage of their own, Med Pay and PIP coverage can
extend to their injuries.
Drivers from Other States
Auto insurance will generally cover a driver from any state as long as he has the insured's
permission to operate the vehicle. However, this isn't always the case. In all instances, when
someone else operates the insured's vehicle, the auto coverage and policy terms may vary greatly
depending on the carrier and insurance options selected by the insured. That said, if an insured is
driving a company/commercial vehicle which has Med Pay/PIP coverage, that coverage is usually
primary over the driver's personal auto policy, which will be secondary in terms of coverage. There
are some exceptions.
Insurance Coverage When the Insured Is Not Present
In order for insurance to cover an accident when the insured is not present, there will need to be
comprehensive auto coverage. The facts of each such case definitely matter. If the driver is a
relative, then most likely the absent insured's insurance will cover the accident. The driver also
needs to have had permission, express or implied, or the insured's insurance may not cover the
claim, unless the vehicle was stolen. Individual insurance companies and policies may vary in regard
to these rules.
Cheap, sub-standard auto carriers write insurance for insureds with bad driving records. They are
able to do this by setting their own limited conditions under which they will provide coverage. These
sub-standard carriers do not cover claims that would be covered under a more standard policy.
These policies can contain "named-driver exclusions" which limit coverage to persons specifically
named in the policy. "Step-down" policies often lower liability coverage to a state's minimum limits
for permissive users, even if the insured pays for higher limits. Deductibles can be higher and/or a
policy won't extend coverage to a rental vehicle. Therefore, policy terms vary and directly affect
whether a particular coverage follows the car or the driver.
So Does Insurance Follow the Car or the Driver?
As we have seen, this is usually not the right question to ask. However, that won't prevent inquiring
minds from asking - over and over. An answer to the question that isn't going to be universally
correct, therefore, is that insurance that follows the car usually has the vehicle listed in the policy. If
anyone who has your permission drives the car, that person is probably covered by virtue of the fact
that the car is covered. However, as we've seen, this kind of insurance does not cover everyone.
There are qualifications for the drivers covered. Other types of coverage such as collision or
comprehensive insurance will usually follow the car. These coverages will usually not "follow the
driver" to any vehicle which the "covered" driver operates.
Insurance that follows the driver will usually be limited to some form of liability coverage.
When an insured drives someone else's vehicle, such as a rental car, a dealership loaner, or a
friend's car, he is usually covered for liability insurance. However, other policies which may be
deemed "primary" over the insured's personal auto policy may also come into play.
Therefore, a very basic and often incorrect answer to the wrong question is that auto liability
coverage generally follows the driver, while auto physical damage coverage generally follows the
vehicle. However, more often than not, you will be asking the wrong question. As long as a driver
has the vehicle owner's permission to operate the vehicle, the owner's policy will provide coverage
no matter who the driver is. The vehicle owner's policy should cover injuries and property damage.
However, exceptions do exist. In most cases, therefore, the right question to ask would be "Is there
insurance coverage under these specific facts?"